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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Boston College 5, Women's Hockey 1

Hole-some home finale
Friars grounded by soaring Eagles

An untimely bout of senioritis caught them in a psychological bear trap right at the starting line. A vengeful swarm of Eagles –bolstered by starting forwards Mary Restuccia, Kelli Stack, and Allie Thunstrom, who would constitute the postgame three stars selection- attacked accordingly.

And the blunderstruck Friars, their NCAA at-large privileges long bone-dry, fell excruciatingly short in the ensuing game of catch-up while Boston College stamped their claim on the last remaining first round bye into the WHEA semifinals through a 5-1 decision before 290 spectators at Schneider Arena yesterday afternoon.

The Eagles, comfortably and progressively removed from the now-hardly mentionable Tom Mutch debacle from 2007, have by all counts replenished the foundation they sculpted beforehand and temporarily mislaid last season. Fitting for them, they cemented second-place in the league and further emboldened their national viability at the expense of the program that somehow bested them in the climax of the 2008 playoff push –even when BC took three of four possible points in the home-and-home finale.

“They didn’t forget what happened a year ago when we ended their season here,” said PC skipper Bob Deraney, his tires now all but having hit the end of a bottomless pit of aggravation. “They came in with something to prove and they beat us in every aspect of the game right from the very beginning.”

The designedly all-senior starting lineup met an abrupt, bitter end to their single, sentimentally-grounded shift together on the heels of their pregame recognition ceremonies. In a matter of sixteen seconds, Boston’s aforementioned turbine trinity planted a prompt 1-0 lead on their first shot of the day.

Restuccia, hovering adjacent to the near post, collected the disc and laced it behind the cage to Stack. Stack thrust it up front for Thunstrom, who slugged a low-riding one-timer behind the back of stopper Danielle Ciarletta.

The next two whistles, blown at 0:53 and 1:01, were summoned by PC icings.

The Friars, who would sprinkle an 8-6 lead in the first period shooting gallery, proceeded to spill two bite-sized power plays before the 15-minute mark and was singed once more by the Eagles’ top attacking brigade at 16:25. This time, the celestial Stack –who earlier in the week had her mug on display in the Sports Illustrated “Faces in the Crowd” column- strolled Thunstrom’s neutral zone feed down the far alley and deposited a soapy rebound off Ciarletta’s boot. Restuccia, swooping in on the weak side, raked it in.

And three minutes later, Thunstrom collected her third point and granted Stack a playmaker hat trick, nimbly rushing in and roofing a wrister mere inches below the spot where Stack had dinged one off the crossbar in the 11th minute.

Ciarletta was finished by period’s end, having let half of six shots faced sneak through. And even with Genevieve Lacasse (17 saves) up to the task of compressing the open lesion, the Friars weren’t sufficiently apt to recompense.

“It comes down to individuals being willing to do what it takes mentally, physically, and intelligently,” said Deraney. “To compete to win loose puck battles, loose puck races, and make plays. They were quicker, faster, stronger, and smarter than us today. The best team won today, and that was that.”

The Eagles pulled the shot clock to an even 15-15 in the second period and augmented their edge to 4-0 with a mere 1:25 gone. Center Becky Zavisza scratched her face-off win back to far point patroller Shannon Webster, who settled it down at the circle top, then scorched it home through a forest of maroon and white bodies.

At the very least, Providence perked up and mimicked that method of execution to hop aboard at 9:05. Freshman Ashley Cottrell blindly bumped the puck off the near dot to Mari Pehkonen on her right and the Finnish Flare drilled home her 10th strike of the season, good for second on the team scoring charts.

Elsewhere, though, the Friars did nothing to expressly follow the resurgent Eagles’ example. They whiffed on two more power play shots in the young stages of the third, and then allowed Maggie Taverna to finalize the 5-1 knockout on BC’s penultimate player-up sequence.

As a distressingly dragged-out consequence, they have now dropped four straight for their lengthiest point drought in two years. And they have but one remaining call –to Conte Forum this afternoon for the rematch- to perhaps spontaneously schedule one more home game for the preliminary round. Or, if outside disturbances don’t permit that, renew their dignity before crossing into the ultra-hyped, ultra-anticipated second season.

“Nothing needs to be said. There’s been enough talk,” said Deraney. “They have to come in ready to play. We are a much better team than we’ve shown in the last couple of games. But it’s up to them to bring it to the table now. We’ve had a whole year of preparation, and we know what we need to do.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Spotlight on senior sextet

Twenty-one relatives and/or intimate connections flocked from three different nations to Schneider Arena as part of the Friars’ annual senior sendoff ceremony prior to yesterday afternoon’s twig-lock with Boston College, whose eight 2009 graduates were mentioned over the PA system as a prelude to the principal rites.

Career highlights detailed for each senior’s minute in the sun:

Erin Normore- Slated to nudge into the #2 slot on PC’s all-time career games list today with 141, having dressed on every possible occasion. With her input yesterday, the two-way connoisseur is tied for third under that heading with 2005 alumna Hilary Greaves and 2007 graduate Kristin Gigliotti. Her presumptive play today will knot her with 2003 graduate Melanie Ruzzi for second all-time.

Steph Morris- 116 (now 117) games played and all nine career points have been notched against Hockey East rivals, including the game clinching goal against Boston University on January 24 of this year.

Katy Beach- A somewhat drolly delivered point that she now rates fifth on the Friars’ all-time penalty minute leaderboard with 196. That, plus a career scoring transcript of 27-25-52.

Mari Pehkonen- A Team Finland veteran of the 2006 Olympics and 2007 and 2008 World Championships. Back-to-back mentions on the Hockey East All-Tournament team in her first of three seasons at PC.

Danielle Ciarletta- Fourth on the Friars’ all-time games played list for goaltenders with 57, a total she upped to 57 with her start yesterday. In three seasons, she has racked up five Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week titles.

Brittany Simpson- The team captain is skating off with a bang, as evidenced by a career-best 12 assists this season. Like the aforementioned Ciarletta, she has put in multiple appearances on the league’s All-Academic roster.

The ceremony culminated with a spontaneous handshake line strictly between the seniors of both parties, followed by the national anthems of Finland (a nod to Pehkonen), Canada (Normore and Simpson’s home and native land), and the United States.

Line changes on the fly
Already raring to test a few tweaks in his depth chart as it was, head coach Bob Deraney was compelled to reform his forward lines yet again late in yesterday’s first period, at which point his club already trailed, 3-0. For the rest of the ride, sophomore Alyse Ruff and freshman Laura Veharanta swapped positions, Ruff now linking up with Kate Bacon and Normore, Veharanta partnering with Pehkonen and Ashley Cottrell.

“Just trying to create some sort of jump, create some sort of chemistry,” Deraney explained. “The lines that we had had in place didn’t seem to be clicking lately, so I was trying to create some sort of chemistry.”

It was to little immediate benefit. The newly concocted lines combined for a mere two shots apiece in the latter forty minutes of play.

Duncan checks back in
Junior forward Jackie Duncan broke her game day attire back out after a full-month’s, eight-game hiatus with a lower body injury, joining Morris and Pam McDevitt on the fourth line.

“She’s better,” said Deraney. “I wouldn’t say she’s 100-percent yet, but she’s good enough to play, and I thought she played fine.”

Quick Feeds: Though ten Friars lost profuse footing in the way of plus/minus yesterday, the likes of Cottrell and Colleen Martin picked up a +1 each for their involvement in the team’s lone goal. Cottrell is now tied with classmate Genevieve Lacasse for the team lead with a +9 rating…Each squad took five whistles from the orange-armed zebras yesterday, though the Eagles tacked on an extra eight penalty minutes owing to Meghan Fardelmann’s 10-minute misconduct, which she had added to her cross-checking felony at 11:28 of the first…BC –whose lone victory when authorizing the first goal occurred here four months ago- improved to a pristine 20-0-3 when drawing first blood, 12-0-3 when ahead after the first, and 16-0-4 through the second intermission…Eagles goaltender Molly Schaus pushed away 21 shots en route to her fifth career win against the Friars…Lacasse claimed just her second “no decision” in 26 appearances this season…Defender Christie Jensen led the Friars with four shots on net…Providence won the majority of yesterday’s face-offs (34 of 61)…An online audiocast will be available for today’s rematch at BC’s Conte Forum (1:00 p.m. face-off).

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hockey Log

Deraney accepts the ante in BC series

There is at least a half-decent chance that the Friars will be fidgeting for the length of their day off this Sunday while the other three Judgment Week series in Hockey East round themselves out. But, owing to the molecular muddle in the heart of the standings, they shall have lesser worries if they do not make a sweeping impression against the streaking Boston College Eagles today and tomorrow.

Trailing BC by four points in the pursuit of second place, PC’s end of the bargain simply reads: grab the four points in this home-and-home or it’s bye-bye to the bye.

They know what they crave in terms of post-season assignments, and they are wisely keeping mindful of what they need to attain it.

“I was watching an NFL football game a few years back, and it came down to a certain situation that the coach wasn’t prepared for,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “He didn’t know the implications. It was amazing.

“So I think it’s very important that you do know the implications of the outcome of each game. You need to know what you need to win, whether you play for the win. We’ve looked at it, and basically, the bottom line is we have to win hockey games.”

And then, they’ll have to root for the likes of New Hampshire and Northeastern to repress Connecticut and Boston University, respectively. The Huskies and Terriers each withhold two more points (25), thus need only accumulate one point fewer than the Friars’ to dock their hopes of an automatic passport to the Whittemore Center –site of this year’s semifinal and championship rounds- or even the chance of a preliminary game at Schneider Arena.

But, Deraney implied, they’ll cross that bridge whenever they reach it; and once the inky fog tapers off, giving them a chance to interpret the scene.

“We know all the scenarios –at least, I think we do,” he said. “We just need to do what we have to do in order to maximize our number of points so that we can get the highest seed we can.”

Schneider Nest?
The Eagles have wrested five of six possible points in their last three stops here. Providence last protected their property from BC’s talons on December 3, 2006, when they laid claim to a 3-2 decision. And by virtue of a 3-1 win here in late October, the Eagles remain the only conference cohabitant from whom the Friars have yet to claim a point this season.

“I haven’t even really thought of it that way, because we just go into every season series trying to win it,” Deraney said.

“We’re not going to approach it any differently. It’s not about the past. They’re up, 1-0, in a series that’s best-of-three, so we just have to sweep this weekend to win the season series. That’s our mindset right now.”

Conte congestion forces unusual draw time
This afternoon’s 4:00 face-off time was ultimately the last domino standing in a succession of scheduling conflicts and a mutual aversion to a night-day weekend pattern.

With the PC men’s squad slated to face Merrimack before the eyes of ESPN-U viewers on Sunday afternoon –a decision that was ruled well after each program discharged rough drafts of their schedule- the two Friar teams agreed to swap home dates. And a convenient set of Friday-Saturday evening games may have worked out if not for the BC men hosting New Hampshire tomorrow night.

“We didn’t want to play at 1:00 at their place on a Friday,” said Deraney on another option. “And you can’t play at 7:00 one night and then 1:00 the next day. So where did that leave us?” he pondered rhetorically.

“It is unusual, but the good thing is that it’s school vacation for local high school and elementary students, so hopefully a 4:00 face-off will attract more fans.”

Quick Feeds: According to Matt Silberman in the PC sports information deparment, combined with the women’s basketball team’s “Pink Out” game Wednesday, the Skating Sorority helped to ultimately raise over $5,000 for the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation through their respective charity events this month…Yesterday’s evaluation found no damage done to senior forward Mari Pehkonen, who in Wednesday’s practice sprawled stiff and flat as a log to block a shot and subsequently departed early with an apparent ailment in her upper body. All signs point to her suiting up today…Though the most unruly club in the league with 425 cumulative penalty minutes, the defensively superior Eagles also boast the top PK rate at 90.4%...Customary Senior Night ceremonies will be conducted prior to this afternoon’s puck-drop.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hockey Log

PC women flip-flop the Finns
Recoveries, scoring funks prompt line chart tweaks

Though still safely tops amongst all Providence College point-getters and all Hockey East rookie scorers with a 15-14-29 scoring transcript, Laura Veharanta has hinted to a yearning for fresh foil on her offensive punch, having been held dry for each of the past two weekend series.

And so, head coach Bob Deraney did the nearly unthinkable –though no less worth trying- and broke up the youthful top line of Veharanta, classmate Ashley Cottrell, and sophomore Alyse Ruff. Over the last four ventures, this line –together with the team in general- has felt a tantalizing numbness in their twigs, with only three collective points to speak of: one assist by Cottrell, two helpers by Ruff.

With the ensuing reconfigurations, Veharanta’s Finnish countrywoman Mari Pehkonen has claimed her red practice jersey and been reunited with the likes of Ruff –with whom she collaborated on six scoring plays late last season and another early this season. If all goes according to Deraney’s plan, he will now simply be deploying the same front line trinity (i.e. of Pehkonen, Cottrell, and Ruff) that has lately constituted the first power play unit for full-time, even strength engagements.

Although, Pehkonen’s prompt availability to put this experiment into game action is suddenly fuzzy. The celestial senior had her practice cut short yesterday when she vanished with trainer Amanda Bowman after blocking a shot about midway through the day’s work. She would return for about four minutes to at least try to join in on a power play drill, only to adjourn once more with an apparent nagging sensation in her upper body.

Come what may, Veharanta has converted to a hunter green tune-up sweater and collaborated with classmate Kate Bacon and crafty senior Erin Normore –who has nudged back to center with defender Christie Jensen’s full return to the regular regimen. Jensen, who did see slivers of action last Saturday, has simply been reunited with sophomore Amber Yung, whom she had partnered with for three consecutive games until she was sidelined with a head ailment at the tail-end of January.

Jensen’s fellow IR discharge, junior attacker Jackie Duncan, has linked up with Lauren Covell and Arianna Rigano, donning fourth-line orange sweaters. Steph Morris and Pam McDevitt, who were both absent from yesterday’s practice, will likely rotate with those three in whatever shall remain of the Friars’ game schedule.

Eagles’ radiant rookies
Boston College freshmen forwards Danielle Welch and Mary Restuccia –who will pay their second career visits to Schneider Arena tomorrow afternoon (4:00 face-off)- are steadily whittling their way up the WHEA’s rookie scoring charts, though they each still trail Veharanta by six points and second-rate Jenelle Kohancuk of Boston University by five.

Restuccia, the league’s reigning rookie of the month who has earned her way to the top line with seasoned sizzlers Kelli Stack and Allie Thunstrom, has been held officially pointless in her last two games, stuffing up a 2-3-5 tear she had been brewing in the previous three. But she was the hero last Saturday when she curled a backhander behind BU’s Allyse Wilcox, granting the Eagles their first shootout win out of two opportunities and effectively tightening their grip on the second first-round bye in the playoff picture.

With that, only the Friars and Northeastern have yet to experience a shootout triumph in the experimental first year of this tiebreaking approach.

All six of BC’s freshmen skaters have pitched in at least two points over their first 31 outings and have polished off 32 of the team’s 94 goals (34%). Similarly, the Friars frosh crop has directly scored 30 of their club’s 80 goals for a substantial 37.5% share.

Quick Feeds: Deraney devoted a full ten minutes yesterday to a forechecking seminar, expressly fostering a formula to seduce and ambush BC’s keen defense…Covell, still hunting for her first collegiate point, earned Deraney’s single-loudest stamp of approval on the day when she cut off a breakout in neutral ice and buried a countering conversion during transitioning drills…Apart from the aforementioned Morris and McDevitt, only forward Katy Beach and goaltender Christina England were unseen throughout yesterday’s skate…The most reliable word has Genevieve Lacasse raring to start in net tomorrow. Lacasse’s five shutouts –which tie her with Connecticut’s Brittany Wilson- are a distant second to BC stopper Molly Schaus’ 10.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hockey Log

Ciarletta reiterates her reliability
Friars’ goalie guild a twosome again

Until last Friday, Danielle Ciarletta hadn’t toiled in formal game attire since January 5, one day after she had heroically doused Genevieve Lacasse’s fire as part of the Friars’ 4-3 overhaul of Cornell, where they needed to delete an initial 3-0 deficit.

But the senior goaltender had –in head coach Bob Deraney’s view- been toiling with unruffled hunger through practice, even as she waited out a 10-game stretch without her input, the longest respite of her three-year tenure on the Divine Campus.

Deraney’s decision to reinstate her to the game night depth chart versus New Hampshire last weekend was explained with equally unchanged simplicity; a verbal simplicity that has virtually flowed in direct proportion to PC’s season-long stability in the cage.

“She’s worked really hard in practice and she deserved an opportunity to play,” he said. “That’s really what it was. It’s a meritocracy here and she’s just worked extremely hard.”

Apart from the aforementioned blip with the Big Red, and a most uncharacteristic 7-3 crumble before Dartmouth a week thereafter, Lacasse has kept to the cusp of impeccability, earning her sizable priority in the distribution of net shifts. So much so that her predecessor in the #1 slot –a title she had patiently worked her way to by evenly splitting the load with Jana Bugden two years ago- has seen her presence evaporate in many spectrums.

With a little less than a quarter (24.2 percent) of the Friars’ crease time to her credit, Ciarletta’s name is officially omitted from the Hockey East goaltending leaderboard, which requires 33.3% of team minutes played for mention. However, her overall goals-against average of 2.05 actually rates seventh among the league’s 16 stoppers who have seen at least one full-length venture –even better than the renowned likes of Northeastern’s Florence Schelling or New Hampshire’s Kayley Herman.

Similarly, her save percentage of .918 is eighth among that group. Despite the fact that she has confronted but one opposing salvo of 30-plus shots, two exceeding 25 stabs, and a cumulative 194 bids in her eight appearances this season, she has halted 178 of them and never authorized more than three goals per outing.

Statistically speaking, Ciarletta’s latest gig against Those Darn Cats was her least proficient yet. A 20-for-23 stoppage ratio still amounted to a night’s save percentage .869 –either a B or a B+ depending on which professor of pucks you talk to.

And Lacasse dealt with the same exact plague the following night up at the knotty Whittemore Center, dealing with a light, sparsely distributed load of 20 stabs and letting in four insidiously executed goals.

With that, Ciarletta’s understudy, like packets of Providence goaltenders before them, learned of the Wildcats’ variability. The radiant rookie had pitched a 43-save shutout towards a stimulating 5-0 win only five weeks prior. It’s a befuddling inconsistency of outside disturbances not so different from New England weather patterns.

Ciarletta can relate to that, having now charged up individual save counts of 40, 26, 27, 24, 24, 21, and 20 to go with a 0-5-2 career transcript versus UNH. Her 40-save sophomore dolphin show in Lake Whittemore –one of her breakthroughs as a Friar after she had transferred from Minnesota-Duluth- would be the first of two ties she has cultivated at the oversized pond in Durham.

Apart from a seven-goal shellacking later that year, though, Ciarletta has held the New Hampshire strike force within sane boundaries every time. She and Lacasse both have done that to most every adversary for the length of this season. Out of 14 PC falters this season, half have been by a one-goal differential, and only five by a three-plus margin.

The tandem’s continued tidiness and Ciarletta’s rather long-awaited return sparks speculation that the workload will be split once more in this weekend’s home-and-home set with Boston College to round out the regular season. And if Ciarletta has any upper hand on Deraney’s option scale, it comes with the primordial déjà vu of last season’s fault-line fight with the Eagles. In the finale, her three saves late in regulation plus two in overtime granted the Friars the one requisite point they had needed to gain entry to the playoffs whilst docking BC from contention.

And yet again, the constituents of the WHEA’s Catholic Clash –which has spawned a couple of classic bouts between Ciarletta and counterpart Molly Schaus- are in positions to spoil one another’s ambitions. Neither a first-round bye nor a road trip for the preliminary round has been ruled out for either party.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Hockey

Top and bottom are the limit in Judgment Week

Northeastern University –one conspicuous reason as to why, roughly twelve months ago, Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna declared “it’s time” to augment the women league’s playoff partition- sealed the sixth and last passport available on Sunday.

And right now, with two games yet to be played per team, the final rulings in the way of seeding begin with the sixth-place Huskies and end in one cross-channel leap to the regular season champion New Hampshire.

The middle space is infused with a dense stuffing likely of the sweet-and-sour brand to nervous partisan palates, but an exhilarating, good-for-the-game flavor to the tastes of Chieftain Bertagna and any other interested observers. Four petite bourgeoisie programs are raring to assume first- and/or second-hand control of one another’s ultimate assignment. Although, that is assuming they can be sure to help themselves first.

The aforementioned teams happen to be the only conference cohabitants who have fastened the upper hand on their 2008-09 three-game season series with the Friars. Therefore, in the event of a 25, 26, or 27-point knot with either Boston University or Connecticut come about 4 p.m. Sunday, Providence will get dibs on the better seed by virtue of having wrested the majority of the points from those clubs in their season series.

At worst, this means adding a bonus date to their home schedule and hosting either Seed #4 or the Hub Huskies in the preliminary round on either February 28 or March 1.

But, trailing Boston College, 1-0, in terms of head-to-head and by four points in the WHEA points column, a sweep in this weekend’s home-and-home is the Friars’ only means of making the most prodigious pole-vault from the fifth to second slot.

But then, the Terriers and Huskies have to be sure to indulge in no more than two points themselves. Under those facts, Friartownies are obligated to, however reluctantly, root for their two most recent teasers –Northeastern and UNH- who will conduct home-and-home sets with BU and Connecticut, respectively.

Now, of course, we ought to make a point of scattering an essential array of asterisks –the hottest tool in sports journalism today. For the frozen rain spirits only know how many spontaneous three-point packages (aka shootout contests) that there are to be had. And since the Terriers evenly split their season series with UConn, a final knot on the leaderboard would be settled by conference wins, still a go-anywhere part of the database as no more than two Ws pry these four parties apart.

Those cluttered, hypothetical factors aside, the most perceivable profusion of scenarios and requisites for each team looks to read as follows:

In order for the Friars to finish…
2nd- Sweep of BC combined with NU sweep/split with BU AND UNH sweep/split with UConn
3rd- Split with BC combined with either NU sweep of BU AND UNH sweep of UConn
4th- Split with BC combined with either BU sweep of NU OR UConn sweep of UNH
Split with BC combined with either BU split with NU OR UConn split with UNH
5th- Split with BC combined with BU split with NU AND UConn split with UNH
Split with BC combined with BU sweep of NU AND UConn sweep of UNH
Sweep by BC

In order for BC to finish…
2nd- Sweep of PC
Split with PC combined with NU sweep/split of BU AND UNH split with UConn
3rd- Split with PC combined with NU split with BU
4th- Split with BC combined with BU sweep/split with NU AND UNH split with UConn
5th- Sweep by PC combined with BU split with NU AND Connecticut sweep of UNH

In order for BU to finish…
2nd- Sweep of NU combined with PC sweep of BC AND UNH split/sweep of UConn
3rd- Sweep of NU combined with PC split with BC AND UNH split with UConn
Split with NU combined with BC sweep/split with PC AND UNH sweep of UConn
4th- Split with NU combined with BC sweep/split with PC OR UNH sweep of UConn
5th- Split with NU combined with PC sweep/split with BC AND UConn sweep of UNH
Sweep by NU combined with PC split with BC AND UConn split with UNH

In order for UConn to finish…
2nd- Sweep of UNH combined with PC sweep of BC AND NU sweep/split with BU
3rd- Sweep of UNH combined with BC sweep/split of PC AND NU sweep/split with BU
Split with UNH combined BC sweep of PC AND NU sweep of BU
4th- Split with UNH combined with BC split with PC AND NU sweep of BU
5th- Split with UNH combined with PC sweep of BC AND BU sweep of NU
Sweep by UNH combined with PC split with BC AND BU split with NU

Looks like anybody and everybody with a stake in this lottery-ball spin can look at one another and see the conflicting face of Harvey Dent after his discharge from the hospital.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hockey Log

Plus signs went blank
PC women Cat-scratched on special teams

Granted, there were spurts of convincing, genuine incentive feeding the Friars’ power play brigade as they pushed through the tricky depths of New Hampshire’s Lake Whittemore last Saturday night.

After a protracted habit of procrastinating with the puck had amounted to but one conversion in their previous 20 PP offerings, they literally cut to the chase to draw a stimulating 1-1 knot near the dusk of the first period. The Wildcats were but two full minutes removed from facilely Raylen Dziengelewski’s two-minute tripping sentence when Kelly Cahill was caged for hooking at 14:08.

A mere 16 seconds and one shot later, Kate Bacon converted a feed from Alyse Ruff for the second straight evening. And yet again, she did it by disregarding any imminent, punishing hostilities on goaltender Lindsey Minton’s porch.

Like that, PC’s power play drought was splashed after 13 straight missed opportunities –four of which were shotless.

And when the Cats’ discipline detonated in the closing frame –a bench minor at 5:34 and Maggie Joyce’s checking felony amounting to an 88-second 5-on-3 segment- the Friars switched from valiant stealth to refreshingly tireless, unhesitant bombardment. They weren’t rewarded on the scoresheet, but conceivably planted something to build on in the final week of the regular season.

Before Cahill –serving the too-many-players term- could be released and alter the set-up to 5-on-4, Laura Veharanta and Ashley Cottrell had seen two stabs blocked. Veharanta, Ruff, and Bacon combined for four bids that reached touching distance of Minton. And Veharanta tossed in another registered try before even strength was restored.

The natural drawback –apart from Minton’s poised, simplistic, Genevieve Lacasse-like responsiveness- was that PC’s impulse was immediately recovered when they had already landed in harrowing holes. The first period conversion deleted a deficit spotted some nine minutes earlier when UNH connected on its first power play with a mere 4:48 gone.

For the first forty minutes on Saturday, the Friars had misplaced their primary source of solace in a trying stretch that has seen them go 1-4-0 in their last five outings only after they had kickstarted the homestretch on a three-game winning streak. They took merely eight strides to the sin bin over their previous four games, including just one the prior weekend in a 3-2 falter at Northeastern and again when they submitted the same score to the Wildcats at Schneider Arena last Friday.

UNH was only afforded fast, free breathing room when the long-idled Providence PK force was called upon twice within the first ten minutes of action. And Kelly Paton’s icebreaker came as a tipping point after she and her mates mollified Lacasse with three power play shots to initially rev up the shooting gallery.

Paton would connect for the eventual decider at 13:58 of the middle frame, effectively terminating the Friars’ fourth and final kill on the night. New Hampshire had stocked up just enough collateral in the form of a 2-for-4 connectivity rate and an aggregate bushel of 10 power play shots –exactly half of their game total of 20.

Similarly, though not quite up to the same par, the Friars went 1-for-6 and discharged seven of their 17 shots when at least one player up. And with the raging regional epidemic of New Jersey Devils’ intrasquad contests at its peak, that is a telling ratio as to their newfound power play drive. They at least relearned to lunge out when the getting was good.

Still, they blinked in the way of discipline at inopportune moments to bolster New Hampshire’s nightlong upper hand. And top gun Jenn Wakefield had inserted two unanswered strikes to grant the Wildcats a gaping 4-1 edge well before they daringly decided to start juggling acetylene torches and bait PC’s rabid, famished strike force.

When that happened, PC’s youthful, budding giants awoke. Bacon’s two stabs during the 5-on-3 salvo amounted to an individual count of five on the night, again making her the busiest puckslinger of the game after she took six swings on Friday. Top line associates Ruff and Veharanta combined for three SOG in that space and six in the whole game. And a fast-thawing Abby Gauthier –with four points in the last three weekends, though none Saturday- saw a last ditch attempt go wide in the 14th minute while Courtney Birchard did time for high-sticking.

It was arguably a morally fruitful change of pace after Friday’s malady, to be sure. Yet by that point, UNH was rewarded for its patience in watching the spirits seep out of their rivals through another series of mental lesions and spent the bulk of a six minute anticlimax humming through Lacasse’s neighborhood. They had struck early on both ends of the special teams’ spectrum and adeptly waited out the draining process.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On Hockey

Cats still have role model look
Muddle thickens for PC women, others

Report based on live stats

Durham, N.H.- Only one constituent in the Women’s Hockey East Association can so much as challenge New Hampshire’s shrill plea for silence concerning the repeated emphasis on deploying a maximum roster size of 18 skaters.

That party happens to be the harrowingly disassembling Providence College Friars, who bowed before their nemesis, 4-1, before 633 at the treacherous Whittemore Center last night. With the loss, PC has duplicated a season-high three-game pointless skid, submitting all of those losses to numerically challenged adversaries.

Such head-scratching, eye-screening, and head-hanging occurrences are hardly new to the Friars this season. In eight of their last 15 games, the opposition has sported at least two cavities in their depth chart (Yale, Cornell, UNH, Northeastern).

PC’s record in that ostensibly advantageous scenario: 3-5-0. In that 15-game space as a whole, they are 7-8 and losing grip on a favorable stature in the Hockey East playoff bracket.

Conversely, the Wildcats –stuck with but 15 skaters per night for the duration of their campaign- are 19-5-5 overall after an iffy 8-4-3 start in the first two months of the season. Last night’s win amounted to a 10-game thrill ride that commenced without hesitation after they had spilled a 5-0 final to these Friars five weeks ago.

Additionally, UNH has sealed yet another regular season championship, still a spacious four points up on second-place Boston College, whom they stomped in their season series with two wins and a regulation tie. And they entered the weekend a season-high fifth in every major national leaderboard to begin with.

They even have a certified tandem of go-to goalkeepers, as evidenced by freshman Lindsey Minton nailing both victories this weekend to give workhorse Kayley Herman a worthwhile respite.

Kind of tempting to just relinquish the league’s Coach of the Year crown and let it take its magnetic trek to the hands of Brian McCloskey –which would make him a fourth-time recipient- is it not?

Everywhere in the Cats’ downward viewing point, there lies a quartet of upper-middle class chasers who are multitasking between compressing their wounds, assessing damages, and looting (or trying to loot) their competitors.

Only BC –now brandishing a 20-7-4 record after yesterday’s shootout win over Boston University- is feasibly not in dire need of the automatic bid to the NCAAs that would come with the Hockey East playoff banner. But that viability could melt next weekend if the Friars have their way. And regardless, given the unchanged priority posed by the bigwigs of the WCHA and ECAC, a likely maximum of two Hockey Easterners can stretch their seasons beyond the first week of March.

Now how’s this for anarchy and full-scope collateral damage? Because yesterday’s technical 3-3 decision at Chestnut Hill goes down as a tie in national terms, neither the Eagles nor Terriers did much to advance their causes in the polls.

But by each claiming at least one Hockey East point, they both distanced themselves from the Friars –who with Connecticut’s triumph over Maine have slipped into fifth place. Freeze that whole arrangement place for a week and the Huskies will again host Providence to commence the post-season. And they’d be sniffing and salivating like a bloodhound-bulldog hybrid for redemption from last season.

Beyond trying to seal home ice, UConn’s insurance for national selection in case they don’t land the conference crown is also in need of replenishing. They are one slip away from breaking 10 under the “L” heading, which the Terriers and Friars have long done already. For the three of them, it’s the cigarette theory in action. Every loss is to one’s NCAA candidacy what a smoke is to one’s lungs.

Over this despondent weekend, Friday the 13th ominously saw that star-crossed digit emerge in the Providence loss column. As of this morning, they are up to 14.

The fettering wager only gets tighter. The coming weekend will offer PC a chance to rally and wrest a 2-1-0 decision in their season series with the Eagles. But apart from scholastic bragging rights, raking home the four points is now a dire necessity if they are to earn the second and last-remaining bye into the semifinals. BC is carrying 27 league points, the Friars 23, and head-to-head results are the first criterion for tiebreaking.

Then there’s the momentum factor. Lightning may have struck down the short-bench scoffing that certain aspiring pundits have done, but it’ll be hard pressed to debunk the straight fact that stability and self-assurance can decide who has the upper hand even prior to puck-drop.

On the whole, the Friars have the least of the momentum at this very moment. BU arguably has a better-than-nothing morsel of it. The Beanpot champion Eagles are not to have their confidence questioned as they retain a five-game unbeaten streak. And in their sweep of Maine –still the only team out of the playoff picture- Connecticut is steadily restoring order, though they have the regal Wildcats to look forward to in the finale weekend.

Regardless of anybody’s active direction, there is molecular apprehension everywhere from Seeds 2-5 in Hockey East, and it’s not inclined to give in until the last ice chips settle a week from today.

The Granite State Goddesses look down and laugh.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Scale of up to 10
The most likely Vancouver-bound PC connections

Just because reaching a three-year respite from the Olympics –much like the U.S. Presidential derby- is the mark superior to the hypists’ tongue-curbing willpower, the last week has marked that time for rife continental door-busting in eyeing the Vancouver Games due to commence in still another 12 months.

Well, what can you do? You may as well get in line and claim a few slices while they’re at their hottest and freshest. And so, for the reading pleasure of flag-waving Friartownies, we profile ten PC personalities –one of them guaranteed, and the rest with a feasible shot- at sporting their country’s colors next winter.

Brian Burke- The pride of the Friar Puck community’s foil-fisted populace is ahead of everyone else in this game –now officially 254 days into his term as the U.S. men’s general manager. This program has stressed its itch to resurge from its slipshod showing the last time around in Turin, Italy. Burke is bound to take a protracted business trip to the same city where he had spent six years commanding the Canucks –a relationship that ostensibly ended on jagged terms in 2004. If he has his way, the alliance of those circumstances will take a vengeful toll on the competition.

Jackie Barto- Granted, she just fell short in Team USA’s head coaching derby to the exponentially popular Wisconsin skipper, Mark Johnson. But with eons of intercollegiate and international experience, the 1984 alumna should not be ruled out for either an associate or behind-the-scenes role.

Hal Gill- Gill saw no action when he tagged along with the Americans to Italy. But given GM Burke’s continual craving for “pugnacity, truculence,” something else, “and belligerence” the towering, hulking, five-time World Championship veteran can expect a written invitation to take the next step in Vancouver. After all, Team Slovakia will thus be the only program conceivably capable of matching or exceeding Gill’s individual imposition.

Genevieve Lacasse- Having made a nearly infallible impression through the duration of her young collegiate career, the PC women’s go-to stopper has every inalienable right to throw her hat in the ring for the peerless privilege of brandishing the Maple Leaf on the game’s most heralded platform before a patriotic home following. The equally natural drawback: umpteen individual competitors reserve the same rights and, in most cases, brandish more saturated international resumes.

Mari Pehkonen- Already having charged up a team-best three goals in the Turin Games –where Finland finished a respectable fourth- and having since gotten reacquainted with Suomi’s Skating Sorority in every tournament possible, Pehkonen would require a hefty bribe and a spilled conscience not to return for the 2010 tournament.

Fernando Pisani- Akin to Lacasse, the 2000 Divine Campus graduate and veteran Edmonton Oiler will indubitably pine for participation as his native country hosts the event. And just the same, he’ll find himself engulfed in a supremely spirited, sizeable pool of candidates.

Karen Thatcher- Recall that Thatcher captained the Hockey East All-Star band that assisted the Amerks in their “Skate to 2006” tune-up tour. Her trek in the three-plus years since will all but shoo her in to the other bench the next time that exhibition is conducted. Since she snagged her degree at the Dunk about three months after the Turin Games, Thatcher –like Finnish counterpart Pehkonen- has latched on with Team USA for every major event imaginable.

Laura Veharanta- The dual American/Finn has expressly vowed to take her swing at a quick reunion with current collegiate teammate Pehkonen next winter. Her impression leading up to her arrival at PC and for the duration of her rookie season has been sound enough, although her posture on the international platform is fuzzier. Translation: no guarantees, but if she misses, just as well for the Friars, who will be in the climax of the 2009-10 season.

Ron Wilson- Hey, the aforementioned Burke said, flat-out, only after the game’s worst kept secret of the century was confirmed in Toronto circa Thanksgiving, “If I had to hire a coach today, I’d hire Ron Wilson.” And here they are again, circumventing the invincibly logical conclusion. Beyond their renewed partnership with the Leafs some three decades after their concomitant commencement, Burke is looking at Wilson’s resume and finding a gold medal in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, just to name his core token of accomplishment.

Amber Yung- The PC women’s sophomore defender has made harmless headway in taking on a little Stars-N-Stripes seasoning, having spent parts of the past summer and winter breaks with Team USA’s U22 Selects. But owing chiefly to experienced, competitive blockage, she will likely have to withhold her Five Ring ambitions until at least 2014. In that sense, her international course will likely resemble Thatcher’s pattern.

Dog Fight just warming up?
Little more than a temporary –though most untimely- psychological cyclone cost Northeastern its bid to splash a two-decade men’s Beanpot drought last Monday. The game shipshape in the way of competitiveness, as advertised, for about the first fifty-four minutes, Boston University wisely drew an extra slight on the Huskies by converting two shorthanded breaks in a matter of 30 seconds to solidify the assertive 5-2 final. But while BU is impeccable on its part, what with the record-busting ways of rookie goalie Kieran Millan and their pristine 9-0 interleague record to solve its two standout flaws of last season, it is not invulnerable to outside factors. Expect a more learned NU band to emerge in this week’s home-and-home set between Hockey East’s runaway titans. And if nothing else, by the time this report is disclosed, the new pair of Hub Hunks (BC is slipping sympathetically to irrelevance) should be boasting the league’s first two playoff passports.

Quick Feeds: This is a shamefully belated catch, but six of the PC women’s rookies bear the retired numbers of legendary Bruins: #2 Laura Veharanta and Eddie Shore, #4 Christie Jensen and Bobby Orr, #8 Lauren Covell and Cam Neely, #9 Arianna Rigano and Johnny Bucyk, #15 Kate Bacon and Milt Schmidt, and #24 Breanna Schwarz and Terry O’Reilly…Yet another jutting step in women’s hockey’s Operation Integration this week as Part II of the Beanpot saw two all-female quartets officiating the third-place and championship games…Veteran USCHO inkslinger Dave Hendrickson notched some stirring entertainment points in his Thursday column, assessing this on the Tim Army Corps: “The Providence Friars donned their Dracula capes early in the second semester, coming back from the dead after an 0-8-1 start within the league.” He proceeded to squander a few of those points by signing off with a birthday greeting to his daughter. Hey, Dave, you do know you have the right and power to establish a personal webpage outside the office, don’t you?…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: Cornell, trying to bump itself up the ECAC men’s standings, hosts Union, clinging to nearly negligible viability on the national landscape, on Saturday.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com